Stage review: Pittsburgh CLO scores with a classic 'Damn Yankees'
July 7, 2016 11:50 AM
Lola (Sarrah Strimel) tries to seduce Joe Hardy (John Riddle) in Pittsburgh CLO's "Damn Yankees."
John Bolton as the devilish Applegate with Sarrah Strimel as Lola in Pittsburgh CLO's "Damn Yankees."
Jessica Crouch is a sports writer covering the Washington Senators in Pittsburgh CLO's "Damn Yankees."
By Christopher Rawson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What fun! But first, some history.
As a kid I probably first used “damn” to say “damn Yankees” — not because I’m from the South but because I’m from New England and thus a Red Sox fan. That was when the Yankees won all the time, so I loved Douglass Wallop’s 1954 novel, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” The unlikely heroes were the Washington Senators, the patsies of the decade.
Jerry Ross and Richard Adler (and George Abbott and Bob Fosse) quickly turned the novel into a 1955 Tony-winning musical, revived on Broadway in 1994 (choreographed by Pittsburgh’s Rob Marshall, assisted by sister Kathleen). And there was the 1958 movie. But Pittsburgh CLO hasn’t staged it since 1976, so this revival 40 years later is a welcome feature of the CLO’s 70th anniversary year.
Where: Where: Pittsburgh CLO at Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25.75-$75.75 (students $15); pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666.
CLO head Van Kaplan has treated it as the classic it is by going with the 1954 original (albeit pruned a bit, with a few additional tidbits), rather than the 1994 version or a 2014 adaptation that switched the Red Sox for the Senators. This is pretty much the golden oldie.
And it holds up. After all, baseball hasn’t really changed, let alone fandom, seduction, a surprisingly sweet middle-aged love story, snatches of Fosse’s choreography and, of course, the Devil, whose references go back to the Thirty Years War but who is always up to date, especially, as he says, in an election year.
We first meet middle-aged Joe Boyd (Jeffrey Howell in teddy bear mode), who leaves his stalwart wife, Meg (Sally Wilfert, touching but never saccharine), and sells his soul to a slick Mr. Applegate (John Bolton) — the Devil, get it? Applegate enters trailing infernal mist. “Are you anybody?” he’s asked. “Not a soul,” he smirks.
On the whole, the Devil does get the best lines, and Mr. Bolton knows what to do with them. Of course some of them require that we remember such antique things as dial telephones.
Joe the fan is transformed into our hero, slugger Joe Hardy (John Riddle, earnest and handsome), but not before he insists on an escape clause to the infernal contract. So Applegate summons home-wrecker Lola (Sarrah Strimel) to sing “Whatever Lola Wants,” a big hit song we older folks remember.
Pause a moment to recall Ms. Strimel almost two decades ago as a Gene Kelly Award winner at North Allegheny High School, and almost continuously on Broadway ever since. She dances the heck out of Lola, but she’s all heart, too.
That’s the show’s other hit song, “(You Gotta Have) Heart,” sung by the team manager (deadpan old pro Gavan Pamer), supported by Joe’s teammates. There are several other appealing songs, which is one pleasure of revisiting the classics, discovering how much you’ve forgotten.
Other supporting roles contribute, especially Gloria, a proto-feminist sports reporter (Jessica Crouch, working very hard on “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo”), who helps drive the plot. Among other standouts are the team catcher (Ryan Cavanaugh) and a comic friend of Meg’s (Christine Laitta).
Michael Lichtefeld choreographs, and I mean it as a compliment when I say the ballplayers dance more like ballplayers than dancers. Charles Repole directs, pulling the usual CLO magic trick, bringing the whole thing together in a week. And as befits a golden oldie, Tom Helm’s orchestra is 22 strong, practically the full 26 from back in the day.
By the way, in one of the other versions, we learn that the Devil is actually a Yankees fan. That explains a lot.
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.
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